Monday, 16 March 2015


No increase in the personal allowance for 2015/16 was announced in the Budget on 18 March. So Nick Clegg's pressure and his hopes for one clearly didn't work.

"Nick Clegg announces increased Worker's Bonus for low and middle earners.

"Nick Clegg has said that next week's budget will include an extra £100 for low and middle earners on top of tax cuts already promised"

So began a statement on the Liberal Democrats website on Friday 13 March timed at 10:08. 

It seemed a clear preview of the Budget due in five days time. Not least because it was picked up by a press release service and circulated as a Lib Dem press release. 

There had already been suggestions in the press that another £200 or £400 on the personal tax allowance might be announced in the Budget. But this politically managed expectation is very different from a clear statement by the deputy Prime Minister that the Budget "will include an extra £100". To give people "an extra £100" means raising the personal tax allowance by £500 - even more than other papers had been speculating in the previous week. 

So the Liberal Democrat statement was big news, both for the amount of the rise and the fact it was a clear Budget leak - albeit by a member of the Government. 

When I rang the Lib Dems press office no-one had heard of the press release and a press officer denied it had been issued. I pointed out it was on the front page of their website and being circulated as a press release. After hasty consultations she continued to deny it and promised to call back.

She didn't. When I checked about an hour later the original link on the website failed to work and when I found one that did link to the story with a more acceptable url, three statements had been amended. 

  • The headline "Nick Clegg announces" was changed to "Nick Clegg pushes for". 
  • The phrase "next week's budget will include" had been watered down to "he would like to see next week's budget include" 
  • And "an extra £100" had been replaced by "as big a tax cut as possible". 
One thing that hadn't changed was the time on the story. It was still timed at 10:08 though this version had been published more than an hour later. 

I called the press office. They said it had been an error which was corrected. Then a top press spokesman in Nick Clegg's office called me to deny that anything had been issued as a press release. He blamed 'a junior member of our staff' who had 'misinterpreted' an interview Nick had done for the Mail and put it on the website. He went on to stress this "was not an announcement" the person "had no access to any government information whatsoever" and "no press release was issued at all". All my pressure had done was to get a very junior member of staff hauled over the coals.He added "I promise you Paul, it is not true".

So the Lib Dem defence is that just days before the Budget and two months before the General Election, a very junior member of staff was able to update the Liberal Democrat website on the basis of a misunderstanding of a newspaper story published the day before without anyone checking it until a journalist rang to confirm it.

PS if you click on the original link you get to an example of Lib Dem humour. Its 'page not found' page says 'Just like David Cameron's courage, this page does not exist' and invites you to comment on the PM's refusal to take part in a TV debate

16 March 2015
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